Funny old thing, time … One minute there you are with a newborn baby wondering over every minute, every detail of a new person, and then woosh – suddenly you have a three year old, grey roots in your hair and no idea where the last three years went.
In fact, it’s impossible to believe that your exuberant, feisty, glorious small person was ever a tiny newborn, a baby crawling at the speed of lightning down the hall or a toddler wobbling along on chubby little legs, arms up in the air trying to balance.
Somehow in the wink of an eye your child has become an all-consuming, time-eating, high-speed and even more demanding individual with strong opinions on everything and an all encompassing zest for life (and love of sticks, mud and trampolines).
When I was pregnant, and even more so once she was born, I found I could write. I wrote … words flowed. They slowed a little due to tired eyes and broken nights, but still they came. The first birthday passed, she learnt to crawl, to walk, to chatter, to sing, to dance; all her milestones were meticulously documented. Articles poured forth on everything from breastfeeding to pubic hair. And, then she hit two.
My word flow became a trickle, a dribble and then all but dried up. Every ounce of time was dedicated to fulfilling her needs, earning a living and keeping us in clean clothes!
When I did sit down to write I felt as if I had nothing to say, the words just wouldn’t come.
Suddenly my writing felt dry, not witty, it didn’t sparkle and flow in the way it once did. Had she taken my confidence? Had the oxcytocin dried up? I was still breastfeeding so it shouldn’t have. Maybe, I’d overdosed on it and the rose tinted glasses had become so much a part of me that nothing seemed particularly challenging or worth writing about. After all, there are only so many articles you can submit on being happy with a small child.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t creating, I wrote a book, well, I created a book – a children’s book, about breastfeeding. It always annoyed me that all her books showed bottles and jars of mush, never breasts being used to nurture, as nature intended.
I found an artist, she became a friend, a patient one, who meticulously detailed the ever shifting contents of my mind, and helped translate my vision to paper. I wrote rhymes for children. I changed the plan for the book. I made it interactive and fun with a bear to hunt for on every page. I found a publisher; I signed off proofs. But, I didn’t write about it. Not at all … it didn’t seem the right thing to do.
So, now the book is out of my control and at the printers; somehow the rest of life is back in full colour – if rose tinted.
The three year old who wakes me with a cheerful “Morning Mama” every day before dragging me out to face the world is even more demanding than the two year old was, but my words are back, bubbling out. My mojo has returned. I want to write again.
I do feel reborn. Or, maybe it’s just the spring sunshine, the daffodils and the promise of a thick slice of granary bread at the end of a bread-free Lent.
This was first published on 2nd April on the very wonderful Mothering in the Middle website
Some friendships endure, you meet as children and know each other for ever, slipping in and out of each other’s company with ease no matter the circumstance and duration of the time you’ve spent apart. Other friendships come and go with phases of your life. Some people you know for years but never really feel as if you know each other properly, and others you meet later in life and all of a sudden they’re deeply ingrained in you, in your world and in what feels like your very being all a matter of moments.
My mother has lost many friends over recent years, it’s accelerated this last year, so many wonderful women, so many people that have been a part of the background of my growing up and life at home. Last year one of her oldest friends, and just last week one of her most recent. When I say most recent I mean she’d only known her for 20 years as opposed to 70 or 80 … she’s mourning the loss of someone she chatted to most days, someone with whom she sighed over the scrapes their troublesome daughters got themselves, someone who she shared endless proud stories of grandchildren, and someone who was only in their early 70s (as opposed to mid 90s), a spring chicken in the scheme of things, a late addition to the rich tapestry of her life… but she’s bereft. We saw her just before she died, quite literally. Mummy sat quietly, I stood in the kitchen with her two daughters, and mine, the latter was a little bemused by the silence and the tears, she took it into her head to sing, something she often does when she’s bemused, she went in and stood by her Granby, her rock, my mother, and watched the sleeping sick friend, “One more step along the world I go, One more step along the world I go, From the old things to the new, I’ll go travelling along with you” … she came back into the kitchen and asked for a biscuit. A few hours later we had the phone call to say Mum’s friend had died, surrounded by her family and having spent the morning with her friend beside her. Sad times, and the funeral still to come.
Two weeks on and I spent the day with friends, two of them, both new in the scheme of things.
One I got to know through work, she lives locally and we’d shared the odd drunken post conference chat, then I became pregnant, and a few months later so did she. Her son is my daughter’s ‘boyfriend’, they’ve known each other all his life and all but 2 months of hers. We now drink tea together, go to playgroup and share photographs on facebook of our small folk. They were Mary and Jesus, they play well, the are calm and happy together. She makes me happy, she grounds me, she’s 11 years younger than me, beautiful, elegant, poised and articulate, we’re different, but we’re friends, good friends.
I had to drag my small person away when we left, she wanted to stay with her boyfriend and his big sister, to play on, to paint spots not just on her finger nails but her toe nails too, to play with trains and to laugh. She was fractious as we ran to the car.
Half an hour later we arrived at a little cottage up a pretty lane. It was raining, but she ran from the car clutching an Easter egg in shiny paper to give to her friend. I had a bottle of Prosecco and a box of incredible vine tomatoes for mine. I got to know this second friend as she has a shop, a wonderful shop with the most remarkable ecclectic mix of vintage stuff, amazing cards and buttons. Not in town but in a diversified farm court yard … easy to drive in, park, rush in, grab a present and belt out again in under 10 minutes. Perfect for someone that hates shopping as much as I do. Over the years we got to know each other, she laughed when I ran in, and somehow passing the time of day became friendly chats. We both of wild hair, both wear some of the same clothes, though she is petite and I’m not, she has a mischevious wicked sense of humour and talks alot of sense. We became friends. She found she was pregnant, I wished I was. Her pregnancy progressed as I prepared for IVF, her daughter was born a few weeks after mine was conceived. They’ve become friends because their mothers are friends, chalk and cheese, but good friends. They phone each other up, they pretend to phone each other up, they nag us to spend time together then squabble over plastic bunnies and bits of ribbon or toy tractors but cry when they have to leave each other. My friend and I haven’t ever had a night out together, but tonight we had a night in.
Pizza and garlic bread with the girls, and then we sat by, we laughed and we cajoled as they played, danced, ate and then bathed together. Games spilled over into tears as bath water flooded onto the floorboards, then they continued, talking, giggling, watching each other and playing separately content in each other’s company. We sat on the sofa and supped warm fizz in wine glasses and shared musical moments. The songs playing loudly on my mobile phone, Nothing Ever Happens by Del Amitri, 500 Miles from the Proclaimers, a bit of Bruce, a couple from the Cure, the Waltz of the Flowers and the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from the Nutcracker. The girls danced and they played, we listened to Elvis laughing his way through a Lonesome night and then swapped stories of early boyfriends, college discos and cheesy love songs. We heard the Power of Love, and Thank you for the Days, and then realised it was about 2 hours past bedtime for the girls … neither of them was showing any sign of tiredness, one in a dinosaur towel, the other a pink tutu. We moved the party to the kitchen, I put on Gloria by Laura Branigan, we talked of holiday romance 30 years ago and our girls held hands and galloped around the kitchen. I had to drag my small person away, she cried, she wanted us to stay there, to bring her friend with us, not to leave. I didn’t want to leave either, but when we did, the feeling of warmth and happiness came with us.
She fell asleep minutes after we set off, I carried her in to the house and into bed, a while later she had a little dream and called out. It was 11pm … we’d had the best afternoon and evening, the best night out for ages and had been home and tucked up by 10!
I got up when she called out, I settled her, and I looked at her. I wonder if in 20 years time she’ll still know her two little friends, I hope so… and I’m so happy she’s growing up surrounded by loving strong women, just as I did. My mother’s friends were an amazing example to me and were people I’ve turned to for support time and time again, and I know that my friends (quite aside from her aunts, uncles and godparents) will offer that to her whenever she needs it.
We’ve a funeral to go to this week, and I’ve got my mother to support. Losing your friends, the people who in no small part make you feel you, is one of the desperately sad problems with growing older … and the realisation of that makes me cherish mine ever more closely.
Back to bed now with a smile on my face and a song on my mind that I first heard when I was a love struck teenage au pair on a Greek island a million years ago, but a song that now makes me think of a new friend laughing and two little girls giggling and twirling hand in hand.
We visited some friends at the weekend, we hadn’t seem them for nearly 6 months, but we hadn’t been there long when she started asking for specific toys, and wanting to see the cuckoo clock on the wall with a cow in it and not a cuckoo. Her memory surprises me constantly, and it was fun to watch her remembering where things were and in particular a blue plastic laptop which told stories of a tank engine called Thomas, his carriages and a fat conductor.
I sat with in the kitchen with my friend, while her husband (another of my friends!) played with their son and my daughter. It was a happy time, occasionally one of other of them would pop downstairs for a hug / snack / glass of wine / slurp of water.
We set the world to rights while she chopped vegetables. Both small folk came down demanding a snack and she gave them a small pot of pleasingly orange carrot circles (as opposed to the lush yellow recently chopped pieces of pineapple on the side of the table) … they headed back upstairs to play with their trophy, they came down a few minutes later for another pot full which she consumed before they’d even reached the stairs.
Sometimes when she sees her friends, they play in the same space but not particularly well together, there are constant cries of “Mine” and the inevitable “he / she took my car / dog / house / biscuit etc etc etc”, not on this occaision. They played well, they shared, they laughed, they ran around the kitchen on all fours pretending to be sneezing dogs, apparently the best game ever, and they chased each other with stuffed tigers before settling happily at opposite ends of the house, one with lego, the other with the coveted Thomas the Tank ” ‘pooter” … silence.
Supper started to smell wonderful, the table was laid, and jobs finished we three adults sat down to chat.
Small person ran in and started a little dance, a thoughtful dance with her hands above her head, she pirouetted about the lovely airy kitchen and then started her bottom wiggle dance, something that a few of them do together at playgroup to make their mothers laugh.
Simon stood up to go and get another glass of wine, my twirling wriggling small person ran over to him and gave him a hug, and then started dancing again, joyfully. Then he was nearly bowled over when she suddenly broke off and bolted across the room and hugged him again.
“My, Hope, you’re full of beans today aren’t you?”, he said smiling down at the exuberant little soul before she turned to head off. She got to the door, and looked back at him quizzically and said, totally without guile, “No!!! Carrots!”, and dashed back up the stairs to knock her small chum’s lego tower over.
She was … full of carrots … not beans … they were still in the saucepan.
It was just one of those perfect toddler moments… she then went on to eat a full roast dinner and enjoyed it so much she picked up her plate at the end and drank the gravy, something I think shocked my wonderful and very polite friends rather, but then she put the plate down carefully, wiped her face with her sleeve and spontaneously announced, “Thankyou! I finished it all up! That was lovely!”.
My friend said she’d never been so complimented with such appreciation on her cooking before.
That moment … when I’m sitting working at my computer having snuck out of bed early so as not to wake her, and the door opens and a dishevelled, sleepy little soul marches in in her pyjamas, hair sticking out at all angles, clutching her four best friends (the small furry fellows she curls up with at night), “Mama, you here Mama?”, a smile that lights up my soul, “There you are! Good Morning Mama!”, the best friends hit the floor and her shambly walk turns into a determined trot, “Milky Mama, need milky!”.
That moment is one of the best ways ever to start the day … we go back to bed, curl up together and she snuggles in, feasts, smacks her lips, “I love you Mama!”.
When you have a toddler, you don’t have time … fact.
You have time for them … listening to wonderful made up stories, patching up sore knees, curling up together breastfeeding at bedtime or in the early morning, encouraging them to eat the nourishing meal you’ve lovingly prepared / thrown together / plonked infront of them, walking down the street holding a tiny hand while it’s owner walks on the cracks in the pavement (or jumps over the cracks depending which day of the week it is), brushing soft hair, hanging out small clothes, watching dance class, cheering at impressive trampoline routines, sitting back and wondering how it’s possible you have a three year old and how you’re capable of such absolute love.
I also have time for looking after my mother … she needs it these days, and for cooking and bed making, though not enough time for listening to the stories I know I’ll regret not hearing her tell one day.
What I don’t have time for is myself … or not my old self … hair cuts, reading books, going swimming, buying grown up stuff, taking walks, long baths, chatting to friends on the phone, wine soaked suppers, having a massage, catching the late train after spontaneous dinners… nor the money … it seems like such a luxury, and such decadence to spend money on myself. Unless anything urgent crops up; a work interview,a new client, a TV appearance …
I need to inject that time in … not just for me, but for her, she needs to grow up with a mother who keeps fit, who looks presentable and is aware of the rest of the wider world. At the moment all she needs is me loving her, nurturing her and keeping her safe and secure, giving her adventures and challenges, but it won’t be long before she’s looking wistfully at other mothers, wondering why I’m not as coiffed or sporty, well dressed or up on music.
So, I’m trying to take time, a few moments when I can, to attend to me … I generally forget to remember to shave my legs and every time I plan on going for a long walk it pours with rain or has gone dark or is time to pick her up from her childminder, but I have managed a haircut this week, and I even had a whole bath by myself and had time to lay back and close my eyes and relish the warmth and the peace. Then she appeared, “Mummy, I get in bath with you? Mummy I want milky … Mummy you want ducks in bath too?” and my attention and my time was hers again … and I was happy.
Then I realised, all the time I spend with her and doing things for her is time for me. I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing … that’s why the old kind of me time has been squished down to tiny slivers.
I took her with me to have a hair cut this week, it was in London, my old world, I had a meeting first , she sat beside me and read a book, and then watched me sitting in the chair that went up and down and then asked for a broom to sweep up my hair … it was fun, we laughed alot and the adventure of travelling on the train together was marvellous.
So … time … I guess I need to be more organised, to schedule time more effectively, and also to always remember to relish time with a small person who at this rate (she’s 3, how did that happen??) won’t be a small person who always looks at me with absolute love for much longer.
In the kerfuffle of the new year, she turned three.
three years old. I have a three year old. She must have been spirited in by storks or mythical gipsies … I’m sure last time I checked I had a baby, or was it a toddler … and now she’s three and a proper little girl. In actual fact a ‘proper little madam’ the description of Violet Elizabeth from Just William is fairly apt.
She fluctuates from wanting to be a ballerina to wanting to be a cow, from singing to painting, from dancing to jumping in puddles and landing on her bottom in the water in fits of giggles. She is full of empathy and love and is also very keen on her own way and her own ability to do everything. We’ve had the odd full on lying on the floor kicking kind of tantrum, and the unutterable despair which results in her holding her face in her hands and sobbing when the world ends because she didn’t pull the yoghurt lid completely off and I finished the job, or when she wanted to pick up the dropped fork and I selfishly did it… but all in all she’s an affable soul.
I’m greeted in the mornings, whatever the weather outside, with, “lovely day Mummy, time to get up and have milky”, or “hello YOU Mummy”, and then have to go through an elaborate ritual of greeting her current chums two stuffed toy rabbits.
Anyway, she’s three, and we celebrated in style … her Granby took her to the ballet, I went as the carer which was a little alarming; trying to keep an eye on H at the same time as pushing a wheelchair. I was a little apprehensive as to how she’d react to the whole experience, but she sat on my lap and stared in wonder at the stage, the toys dancing, the children under the Christmas tree and the naughty mice. In her mind, she was Clara up there dancing with her handsome Nutcracker. She didn’t wriggle or make a fuss, the only outburst, and that in a stage whisper, was “Look Clara dancing, Clara awake”, and other than that the odd muttering about the colours of the dresses the dancers were wearing. She absolutely loved it. She made friends with the cellist in the orchestra area infront of us and in the interval and at the end whirled, in the red taffeta dress she’d been given by a friend last year for her second birthday, and twirled and then was allowed to pull the bow across the cello strings.
That night, wearing the tutu one of her godmothers gave her for Christmas, she announced, “I’m a ballerina” … and she has been ever since.
We made her birthday cake together … the recipe a friend gave me a few years ago when she steered me through the massive challenge (for me) of making a sponge cake with a series of direct messages on Facebook. We didn’t have vanilla essence or lemon essence, so it was a lavender sponge instead… decorated with butterflies and sugar paper flowers … Nigella I’m not, but a whole lot of love went into that cake.
She had a party, a party in the woods, on a windy rainy day. It was one of those parties that I’d thought lots of people would be away for, but they weren’t, with only one exception, in the end everyone I’d invited turned up… several had said they were away, but people changed plans … and the little room in the stables in the woods was bursting with exuberant toddlers, bemused older siblings, squeaky younger ones and all their parents, and her Granby, who came and sat in state and watched the madness unfold infront of her.
Hope’s into singing in a big way, and also pass the parcel, so I decided to combine the two. We didn’t have forfeits, we had songs … when the music stopped … (ha … I say music … the talking was so so loud it totally swamped the music!), sometimes there were pieces of white paper with song titles written on them … she chose Sleeping Bunnies, Wind the Bobbin Up, If You’re Happy and you Know it and Twinkle Twinkle. It was fun, they all lay face down on the concrete slabs in amongst the wrapping paper then leapt gleefully to their feet and Hop, hop, hopped … happy times. Her cake, her big yellow cake, was bought in and everybody partook … and other than that they played with a myriad of coloured balls and a rainbow tunnel, and then all put on their wellies and thick coats and went back out into the wild dark woods leaving me and a handful of willing volunteers to restore the sanity of the stableblock!
Some of her God-siblings came home with us and they played more, she was beyond tired but was so happy to have small folk to play with, I sat with her Godfather and had a glass of wine, and we smiled proudly … I can still remember how emotional I felt a fair few years back now when he showed me his grainy scan picture and announced they were pregnant. Joe is now the big boy of the four of them and Hope adores him.
We slept … a little, she was so over excited, and we went to church on Sunday where she told everyone it was her birthday and generally had a jolly time skipping with her hands on her hips around the church hall.
In the afternoon we went to another party … a little girl 15 minutes younger than Hope … her mother and I had our cesareans in the same room one after the other. Her daughter was late, mine was early … they now go to the same playgroup and play together … mine is at the bottom of the centiles, hers at the top … they’re friends, as are we. This was a quiet party, only a handful of children in their house. The theme was bumblebees, the food was mainly a cake, a lovely bumbleebee hive cake which put mine to shame. The children danced and played games … Hope’s hand made / thrown together bumblebee costume came off quite quickly “itchy Mummy” and she danced around in her vest, a happy little bee.
That night we flopped! Oh and we made another cake … this time a blue one … and a bowl of green icing … for her actual birthday cake. You’d think I might get better at baking … I don’t, they’re consistently flat and not tempting, but I persist in persisting!! Hope chose the colours and enjoyed stirring, mixing and making … before we both got so tired we had to retire… well she did, and I stayed up with drooping eyelids and finished off a small green cake with yellow butterflies!
On the actual day, her birthday, we had a milky cuddly lay in and then go up and I painted her face … and she painted mine … both butterflies, both done with great care. She also decided she was having a baby and spent the morning with a small stuffed rabbit up the front of her top … when her father came round during a work break, she painted his face (it took a little persuading!) like a lion, whilst pregnant, and then we all shared green and blue cake…. he left pretending he was going to be a lion all day, which she was delighted about!
I then had a bath while the butterfly played with her Granby, they covered the sitting room in glitter and had a lovely time making cards (for me oddly), it was a happy and much needed peaceful time after the exuberance and chaos of the weekend!
She opened some of the incredible mountain of presents she’d been given, we played with a small friend of hers and shared a babyccino (top toddler treat of the moment), and then went to dancing class. She wore her tutu, and WAS Clara … she twirled and whirled and danced and skipped, hands firmly on hips, and show bowed at the end and joined in the mantra, “thank you for dancing”. The wonderful teacher had the class sing Happy Birthday to her and then kept her back for ten minutes and they danced alone together, Hope and her heroine … it was huge fun.
We had supper with Daddy … squid, noodles, duck and then ice cream, they did their jolly walk, and we all climbed up and down the stairs outside a few times … funny how family routines form!
Then we came home and I painted her face again, like a tiger this time, and we sat and looked at her new Flip Flap Farm book and had some quiet time with Granby before she headed happily up to her birthday bath, and the magic flannel … the flannel that has taken away all her face painting faces … the butterfly, the lion, the bicycles, the tiger and now the birthday tiger … I put it on her face and the pattern appears on the flannel and then when we waft it around in the water it washes away leaving only a faint trace … it’s really very peaceful.
Then we curled up together, “I’m three Mummy”, “my birthday”, and she had a milky banquet before snuggling down to sleep.
I’ve been totally overwhelmed by the love and kindness she’s been shown, but the huge generosity of friends and family, and the massive range of presents … nothing repeated at all and that’s with Christmas and Birthday … general themes around night clothes and dressing gowns, and making things, and so many lovely books. She’s a very lucky little soul to have such friends… and we now have the BIGGEST mountain of thank you cards to write!!
I write this a month or so after the day, she’s now 37 months old and has grown an inch and a half since her birthday … she knows she’s going to be four next birthday, and delights in sharing the date with everyone, but is equally delighted about Granby’s upcoming celebration and all the birthday parties she has coming up. “I sing happy birthday to EVERYONE”, my generous spirited, happy, thoughtful little soul … her energetic, open approach to life is inclusive and loving and I can’t wait to spend the next year with her, though I wish the time would slow down a little … it seems to be racing by.
Hmmm had an email from playgroup warning of the presence of nits and threadworms … never heard of the latter and was traumatised as a child by the former due to my absurd quantities of thick, curly hair.
Dashed to the chemist to find out what to do … and came away with a nit comb (which I’ve now lost).
Told her father, who twenty minutes later said, “oh there’s something crawling in her hair”, and got all agitated … there wasn’t, it was a bit of banana from her breakfast.
Funny the reaction it seems to bring in adults … mine is mainly along the lines of, “oh that would be annoying”, and also selfishly, “she’d better not give them to me” (even thicker more unruly hair than when I was younger now … think I’d have to shave it all off as I’d never get a nit comb through it!), but some people seem to get very stressed about the whole idea. One of her Godmothers flinched visibly and said, “ohhh no that would be terrible” and another friend said she is quite obsessive about checking her children on a nightly basis.
I was discussing this with a friend, and mother of another small girl at the same playschool, and she very reassuringly said she remembered Sunday evening nit checks from her mother throughout childhood and that nits were a regular occurrence in their home. We both decided it would be deeply embarrassing going to have a haircut and being found to have them, and also would be a social faux pas to be out for dinner and have someone else spot something crawling in our hair …
I guess the constantly circulate colds and coughs have now been added to by more visible bugs and they all need to be watched out for … and I’m not looking forward to small person coming home with them. She’s got such fine straight hair and is great at shouting, “Get out snaggles, go away snaggles” for me when I have to comb out any tangles, but I’m not so sure how she’ll be shouting, “go away nits” if and when it comes to the nit comb moment.
… and as I said, I’ll just have to shave my head if they come anywhere near me …
Not so keen on the idea of threadworms though … how very horrible.
Ahh the joys of toddler parenting!